How Studying Engineering Taught Me Minimalism

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The struggle of “finding my passion” always eluded me – and at times, it still does. I have always envied people who knew exactly what fascinated them from a young age and would pursue it with enviable ardor. Early behaviors would point them to a clear path – a sense of direction that would branch a little bit, perhaps – but not deviate terribly far off course. The question of what interested them was never a question, really. How to best cultivate that interest, perhaps, but not the actual subject. Still, despite those decisions, they continue to be keen on mastering said interest, whether it be music, computers, math, language, arts, science, academics, business, or literature.

I’m certainly not alone in the sentiment – formative years are bound to be full of confusion and uncertainty. I had a vague idea of what I was good at, but not what I was convinced I was excellent at and would want to build a career with. I spent a lot of time in a state of flux, meandering from one hobby to another, never completely mastering something before moving on. I wrote and illustrated storybooks in my childhood, dabbled in HTML and designing Xanga layouts in my K-12 years, created greeting cards in Photoshop, and generally did well in school. Yet, despite all that, I feared that I would never be satisfied with any path I chose. So naturally, in my indecision and naivete, my parents smartly advised me to get an engineering degree, knowing that with a highly sought-after background, I would at least have the option of getting a stable career.

Civil engineering is an uncommon major for anyone who goes to a liberal arts school, but I chose it for its easily visualized applications. It is a discipline that covers a variety of concentrations – structural engineering, transportation engineering, environmental engineering, geological engineering, among others. In a world where demand for sensible infrastructure is increasing, a civil engineer is equipped with the mindset of not just a scientist who can understand abstract concepts, but also a designer who marries building integrity and architectural aesthetic. A civil engineer must collaborate with an architect on realizing an aesthetic vision, work within budgetary constraints, and abide by a set of building codes. It is a skill set that is highly applicable in all areas of life because engineering encompasses ruthless amounts of optimization and efficiency. In any area of life we touch, efficiency is key, because time is the inflexible, unchanging constant that will inevitably affect everything.

Minimalism is a journey where we identify opportunities to optimize our lifestyles given the finite resources and constraints that we all have. That is why we find ways to optimize all of our “systems” – our time spent in the morning, making our bodies stronger so we can more effectively carry out tasks, optimizing our purchasing habits so we can live our day-to-day lives. Optimized systems generally come with a designer’s aesthetic – simple systems are beautiful because they are easy to grasp. You don’t necessarily need to be an engineer or even have studied engineering to apply its principles to minimalism. Thinking like one, however, can help you design your life.

3 Strategies to Bring Minimalism to the Office


Minimalist workspace

In my 4.5 year career at large Fortune 500 companies, minimalism has transformed the way I approach my work. It has helped me focus, strive to produce high quality work, and develop methods to increase efficiency in everything I touch.

My minimalism journey still comes down to raw beginnings. I was not always this way.

Minimalism is not what first comes to mind when we think of big business. We think of vast, inefficient enterprises rife with politics, disarray, siloed business units, conflicting interests, all in the name of profits. Yet inside the cubicle farm, I’m finding that the vast majority of employees are at work to do good work (if not necessarily their best work), and the image of the evil, heartless businessperson we so often see in the media is a technique used by the media to villainize and stereotype big business. I feel, however, that problems in corporate culture exist due in large part to disorganization, and disorganization is often caused by too much clutter. Physical clutter has a very real effect on our mental states, and that, in turn, will affect our productivity in the workplace.

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